Blinding your clients with science

The other day I had a call from a lady who is running a small business. She wanted to hire me to explain the letters she received from her accountants, and translate the conversations she had with them. Clearly they were using technical terms all the time and not making any effort to ensure she understood what she was being told.

This poor business owner was embarrassed to tell her accountants that she did not understand. Plainly she was feeling intimidated by them and her relationship with them was poor.

Much as I would have liked to pick up some more fee-paying work, I just gave her some advice over the telephone. I suggested that she had two choices. Either she should insist on speaking to the partner at the firm responsible for her business to explain her discomfort so that she could have proper explanations of issues that she could understand, or she should change her accountant.

Not being an accountant (although often thought of as one) I could not act for her myself. I did advise the lady that I could suggest a couple of more helpful local accountants. I think she will go with one of them.

We can all adopt tech-speak and when talking to our colleagues, that is what we do. Some of us often forget that it is a foreign language to our clients. If we do not explain their issues simply they will not understand, and they may feel too embarrassed to tell us. As regards our future relationships, the clients may vote with their feet if we blind them with science.

“Thank you for your time”

That is something the TV news presenter says quite often to someone they have just interviewed. I think that phrase is a clue that they have not learned much from the interviewee; perhaps nothing at all which will help the viewers with an understanding of whatever subject was being discussed.

If the presenter had said “Thanks very much for your input, which was really interesting” then I think we can take it that the information gleaned was useful.

In the past I have to confess that a prospect might have said to me “Thank you for your time” after we had had a discussion about how I could help them. I now know it is a warning that I did not get my message across. Has anyone said it to you?

I always do my best to engage possible new clients in how their situation might be improved considerably if they went with me. If I hear that phrase, either I should ask before they go what they did not understand. Otherwise I think I should call back soon to clear up anything they did not understand.

“Thank you for your time” is the big brush-off, but we should not take it lying down. Follow up and clarify, and maybe not lose the business.

Never assume

When I started my first job, every bit of work I did was checked by a more experienced guy. I remember being asked why I had calculated a client’s dividends for his tax return without having evidence they had been paid. I said that I had assumed the shares relating to these dividends had not been sold, so the client must have had them. “Never assume” my colleague said. Although I was stung by his criticism, of course he was right and I was wrong. I should have checked with the client.

Assuming can get you into trouble. There is an accountancy joke “Why did the auditors cross the road?” “Because that’s what they did last year.” That is how mistakes are made, books are not checked properly, and those who are cooking them are not held to account.

In business generally, there are dangers in being comfortable and assuming all is right with our business practices. We need to check and check again we are being efficient. Perhaps above all, we should not assume that our customers are happy. Have we asked them? Everything may look fine from our side, but perhaps their expectations are different. It is too late to find out when they leave us. We should ask for feedback and talk to our clients regularly.

I try not to assume, but am only human after all. I have learned from my mistakes. What about you?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Shooting the messenger

I had a client “sack” me last week. He did not have the grace to tell me in person. Actually he telephoned to check my email address, which he had used many times, and when I asked after him, he said that he had someone with him and could not talk. Two minutes later I had an email telling me my services were no longer required.

Having been in business for a fair time, I have quite a thick skin as far as rude and graceless behaviour is concerned. I did not know the client was unhappy with me, and I always courage feedback by talking. In this case, the client had got himself into a financial mess tax-wise, I was the one who told him he needed to find some money fast, and I assume he blamed me for this, rather than himself.

I would not be good at business if I did not try to make sure my clients are happy, but some will not talk back.

Have you been blamed by a customer for their own failures?

Do you have a tax issue I can help you with? Get in touch and I will guide you.

Building towards delivery

Kodak EasyShare 30 Jan 14 002We have been having some building work done. Having no experience as a builder’s customer, I thought somewhat naively that once they started on the project they would keep going steadily until they had finished. Not so!

What happens is that one day some guys turn up and do some work. They may be present for one day or a couple of days and then they disappear and we hear nothing for a few days. It is so unsettling. Now we  ask each afternoon if the guys are coming the next day, just so we know. Otherwise they may just vanish for a period without telling us.

Imagine if most of us carried on like that. Suppose our clients did not hear from us for long periods and they did not know whether or not we were working on their project from one week to another. Soon we would have no customers at all. The word-of-mouth which brings us clients would soon lose us many prospects. We would be out of business.

Thank goodness most of us do not run our businesses like these builders. However, if I had needed a reminder about prompt delivery and keeping my clients in the loop, this was certainly it. Good grief!

Are your prospects in harmony with your business?

I guess we can all make a splash once to get noticed, and a joke might be the way to do it. Will prospects really remember a business for the one joke, repeated over and over again, or will they get bored?

Here is eHarmony’s current ad in the UK:

 

 

 

 

I would rather that my potential clients felt they could relate to my business and feel comfortable that I could give them what they wanted.

Here is a confession. I have played the dating agency game, and did computer-dating back in the Seventies and Eighties (yes, they had computers then). I would far rather have thought that I did not need to have film-star looks, and did not need to be perfect. I was looking for a normal sort of girl, not some glamour model who would not give me a second look.

The old eHarmony ad featured real people who seemed normal to me; not ordinary, but with their own individual characteristics. Had I still been in the game, I know that this next ad would be much more attractive because I would be comfortable with it until I bought.

 

Don’t you prefer this to the joke ad? Well, I certainly do, but does the advertising agency know better?

Isn’t your prospect more likely to buy when they feel familiar and comfortable with your business and you?

Are you really giving your customers what they want?

26 Feb 12 upload 024 (2)If you have had clients or customers for a long time, do you still know what they expect of you? Have you asked asked them recently?

The trouble is that it is easy to assume we know what they want. It is rather like those relatives who give you those ghastly socks or that awful tie at Christmas, or that CD by a band you really cannot stand which someone thinks is “your era”.

You really wish Auntie had asked you what you would like.

It is similar in business. Just because we think we are familiar with our customers we may forget to ask them what they need right now. Their requirements might have changed, just as you might have liked those silly slippers twenty years ago, but would never wear them now.

Call all your loyal customers. Ask them how they are, how they feel about your service, and what they want right now. Then deliver. Otherwise they may go away.

Poor customer service on the carpet

Be nice to your customers!

Be nice to your customers!

The long wait

We have an apartment for sale. We don’t live in it. It was my Mother-in-Law’s home but sad-to-say she is no longer with us.

The flat is empty of furniture and redecorated, but the carpets need cleaning. My wife telephoned a local carpet-cleaning business and left a voice-mail. They called back (rather oddly on a Sunday afternoon) to make an appointment to do this.

My wife waited at the flat at the appointed time to let the carpet cleaners in. In fact she waited an hour after the appointed tome. During that hour, both she and I called the business’s number, but we both got voice-mail and had to leave messages.

Yesterday afternoon the carpet cleaning people returned our calls and seemed unaware that they had missed the appointment. They asked if they could come round to do the job, but my wife said that she would give the business to someone more reliable.

What have we learned about the carpet cleaners?

  • They do not monitor telephone calls so are not available to customers and prospects when needed.
  • They do not follow up messages left for days.
  • Their booking system is poor and unreliable.
  • They are unbusinesslike.
  • They do not realise their failings so…
  • …they do not apologise

What can we surmise?

  • They are too mean or cash-poor to invest in a proper telephone answering system to which they can respond.
  • They have no concept of the meaning of customer service.
  • Their business will fail or most probably already has even if they don’t know it yet.

What do we know we should do?

  • Make sure our customers can find us and speak to us when they telephone.
  • Deliver what we say we will when we say we will.
  • Be courteous.
  • In the event something has gone wrong despite the best efforts we always make, APOLOGISE.
  • Make up for any failure promptly and maybe we can save losing their business.

We know all that. Can anyone explain why it is not obvious to our local business that may not get to clean many carpets? What do you think?

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How not to run a business

 

English: NHS logo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Patience is a virtue?

This week I have witnessed some very poor business management, or more to the point, no management at all. As it was in a hospital I have also come to understand how the word “patient” has become the word used for those “customers” who are in hospital, because you have to be exceedingly patient when you are in there.

This is not a piece bashing the UK National Health Service. The NHS is great when you have an acute problem. Emergencies are usually dealt with very well. Our local plaster room has always seemed very efficient, but the key there is that the staff in there take responsibility for their own work. They are skilled and they move things along.

A good start

We had to go to a surgical assessment unit. We were told that the patient would be there five or six hours while she was being assessed and the tests were done. She was checked in quickly and efficiently. They took blood fairly early on and the patient was examined a couple of times soon after arrival in the morning.

All downhill

The ward was not especially busy. In the afternoon several patients were taken down for X-rays. Our patient was left to her own devices, and it was just as well she had a good book to read. However at around 7 in the evening when clearly nothing had happened for hours, she asked to be collected as she thought they must have finished with her and she had been told she was fit to go home.

Comedy time

When I arrived, the patient told me she was now supposed to be going to have an X-ray. A porter duly arrived and wheeled her off. Fifteen minutes later they were back. The lady had been rejected by the X-ray department because she was still in her day clothes. She offered to put on one of their gown there and then, but was told she would have to return to the ward to get one.

Now be-gowned she was wheeled off again. Fortunately the porter managed to keep her place in the queue from the previous visit, which was the only initiative shown by anyone all day.

Breaking out

We escaped from the hospital at 9 in the evening. I was starving and while I had been waiting I had sought food in the canteens and hospital coffee shops, all of which had closed. The patient had been fed a rather disgusting shepherds pie in the hospital.

Blaming the management

I found the hospital nursing staff and admin people to whom I spoke very pleasant. I am sure they are good people. It was no good complaining anyway. Clearly there was no organization or management. Many of them were sitting or standing around most of the time, and it did seem that they were over-resourced when we hear so often that the NHS suffers from staff shortages.

It seemed to me that the staff were in the wrong places. Also, in the absence of hands-on management and being told what to do at each stage (often not a good idea as it damages self-esteem), workers do need to be allowed to use their initiative and take responsibility as in the plaster room. Empowerment of the workers to think for themselves within certain constraints leads to greater efficiency and, very importantly, they will be happier and more confident.

Empowerment

I have always believed in largely hands-off management but not in no management at all. Managers should be friendly with their charges because that encourages loyalty, which again promotes good work. You really can’t beat giving your employees responsibility for their own domain in an atmosphere which encourages them to report problems without any fear of criticism. Then you have a really efficient productivity model.

It is a shame when good people are not allowed to be at their best in the workplace. It is a terrible waste of their abilities and a dreadful waste of money.

We wouldn’t run a business like that would we?

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The writer of letters

 

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United ...

Calvin Coolidge, 30th President of the United States. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The writing habit

Quite a lot of my work involves writing. I write to clients, and I write to tax authorities and I write to service providers on behalf of my clients. I write articles and I write web content.

Sometimes my work involves presenting arguments. I have had a lot of practice arguing a case whether it is a business case or a tax case. I suppose I might be quite good at it by now.

The big business bullies

Especially for a start-up business but also for many small businesses, large organisations can make life difficult. That is because the big corporates seem intimidating. Their contracts and procedures can be quite arbitrary. If you query something they have done, the first answer you will get from their call centre is along the lines of “that is the way we always do it”.

So you find that you have signed up to a contract you didn’t think you had agreed to, or you have a bill for work or a service which you thought was part of the contract but they say is extra, or there is a problem with your service that they will not correct. It is very annoying. In fact it can be very stressful too, especially if you have received an unexpected bill you hadn’t budgeted for.

Letters of complaint

If I get trouble from one of these leviathans of the business world I write letters. Emails are all very well, but they are easily deleted, and you don’t always know if they have reached anyone with authority to deal with your complaint or the gumption to pass it on to someone who has. A letter somehow sits on a desk looking at someone who eventually has to deal with it.

If you have a problem with a large company or even a Government agency, try to find out who is in a position to make a decision, such as the Head of Customer Services, the Managing Director, the Chair(wo)man, the CEO etc.. You need a name and Google is our friend.

If that does not bring a result, then most industries have an “Ombudsperson”. Take the complaint to them.

Persistence

US President Calvin Coolidge said Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence”.

One has to be persistent. In the past year or so I have obtained success in dealing with bad decisions by:

  • a large telecoms company
  • a well-known health services provider
  • an insurance underwriter

In all those cases it was ultimately the letters that did the trick.

I write letters because I am used to doing it but I don’t think my success with getting justice from large suppliers is necessarily because I am good at arguing. The success is just because you write to them and you keep at it until they get fed up with you. You must have a good case and it is important to set out clearly why you think they are wrong. You don’t need to write in longhand using green or purple ink like “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”. You just need to show you mean business, which is why sending a letter is psychologically more effective than plunging an email into the ether.

Getting your complaints dealt with fairly needs dogged persistence. I believe in saving as much paper as I can, but sometimes it is very effective in winning an argument.

 

Do you write letters when you have a business issue? How do you get on?

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